by Jenny Atkins, LiveLighter nutritionist and busy mum

A shopping basket filled with vegies

My life is about food!

Food provides nourishment and plays a part in entertaining, celebrations and most, if not all, activities with family and friends. I want my family to eat well, yet I am mindful of the time and cost of grocery shopping. My solution is to do a weekly menu plan. A menu plan works for 1,2,3 or more people.

It’s great to come home from work and know what I'm making for dinner that night – or even better, have it pre-cooked and ready to reheat. Planning ahead helps maximise our food, money and time together as a family.

If dinner time is chaos or tends to be a last minute decision most of the time, then you have the most to gain from planning your meals for the week. Here are a few tips on how to get started with your own meal planning:

Tip 1: Set aside 20 minutes each week to brainstorm meals for the week

Pull out cookbooks, magazines, browse the net and have a look at the grocery store catalogues to find out what you would like to cook. Perishable items like salad ingredients need to be used first, so plan meals at the start of the week with this in mind.

See if you can have time to prepare or cook a couple of meals in advance. For example, make a lasagne, freeze it and it’s ready to pull out and bake in the oven for a midweek dinner.

Tip 2: First stop - your pantry, fridge and freezer!

Check what you already have on hand. Do you have anything that needs to be eaten soon? Spinach leaves, tomato, ham and eggs can be quickly transformed into a yummy and healthy frittata. This also includes leftovers – don’t let them go to waste. Bolognaise sauce is fantastic filling in a baked potato and roast chicken leftovers can be used in sandwich fillings for lunch.

Are there things in the freezer which have been there a while and need defrosting and using? Include these into the plan for the week. Are there enough things that can be made into an entire meal or two from what you already have? Knowing what’s in your house will help minimise wastage and keep costs down.

Tip 3: Substitute in recipes

If a recipe calls for cauliflower and all you have is broccoli – use the broccoli. You would be surprised just how much you can slash your shopping list by thinking ahead and substituting ingredients. Trust me, your meals will be just as delicious.

Cut down the meat quantity and increase the amount of vegetables instead. I always add canned beans or lentils into my casseroles, pasta sauces or soups, and use half the amount of meat stated in the recipe.

Tip 4: Make your shopping list

Start your shopping list as you begin the planning process. This way it’s easy to see what ingredients you will need to work into meals for the week.

Tip 5: Stick to the list

When you go to the store only buy items on your list. Obvious? Yes. Hard? Oh my, yes!
You don’t want to throw away your hard work and planning by buying something that has caught your eye (or your stomach!). Ask yourself if you really need that ingredient. Can you make do with items you already have? More often than not, you’ll find you can.

For me, once the meals are sorted for the week, including breakfast and lunch, I am less likely to think, ‘I can’t be bothered to cook’ or be tempted to grab takeaway during the week.

This means that we’re eating more healthily, as we’re cooking from scratch and not paying money for someone to cook meals for us. Plus, food from takeaway outlets is normally much higher in fat, salt and calories, and come in much bigger portions than we actually need.

Meal planning means we can keep our weekly grocery budget modest, without waste. We eat well on our budget and it does include everything we eat.

I also bake treats occasionally for our lunchboxes. We love LiveLighter’s muffins, mini cakes, muesli bars and savoury scrolls. They are handy as snacks as well as on-the-go brekkie items.

It’s not as hard as you think. A little organisation can go a long way. Check out the LiveLighter Free online meal planners for inspiration.

Cooking for 1 or 2? Planning works for any size household. Need to get a family onboard? Get the whole family involved and ask the kids what they would like to eat during the week. They might suggest pizza at the end of the week, and that’s a great way to use up what’s left in your vegie drawer!

Meal planning works for me – a less-stressed and happier mum makes for a happier household. Give it a go and see if it works for you.

Happy planning,

Jen